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Happy 100th! Local gala honors Boston area centenarians

Kassmin Williams
Happy 100th! Local gala honors Boston area centenarians
Centenarian Josefina Canuto was crowned and awarded her Living Legacy Medal of Honor from Central Boston Elder Services at the Massachusetts State House. Here, she is photographed with her family and local state legislators and officials. (L to R): David Morgan, CBES board president; Rep. Gloria Fox; Catherine Hardaway, CBES executive director; Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz; grandson Hamilton Rodrigues; daughter-in-law Maria Canuto; grandson Manny Canuto; Commissioner Emily Shea, Boston Commission on Affairs of the Elderly; Michael Festa, ARRP; Secretary Ann Hartstein, Executive Office of Elder Affairs. (Photo: Craig Bailey)

Author: Craig BaileyCentenarian Josefina Canuto was crowned and awarded her Living Legacy Medal of Honor from Central Boston Elder Services at the Massachusetts State House. Here, she is photographed with her family and local state legislators and officials. (L to R): David Morgan, CBES board president; Rep. Gloria Fox; Catherine Hardaway, CBES executive director; Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz; grandson Hamilton Rodrigues; daughter-in-law Maria Canuto; grandson Manny Canuto; Commissioner Emily Shea, Boston Commission on Affairs of the Elderly; Michael Festa, ARRP; Secretary Ann Hartstein, Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

Author: Craig BaileyCentenarian Josefina Canuto was crowned and awarded her Living Legacy Medal of Honor from Central Boston Elder Services at the Massachusetts State House. Here, she is photographed with her family and local state legislators and officials. (L to R): David Morgan, CBES board president; Rep. Gloria Fox; Catherine Hardaway, CBES executive director; Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz; grandson Hamilton Rodrigues; daughter-in-law Maria Canuto; grandson Manny Canuto; Commissioner Emily Shea, Boston Commission on Affairs of the Elderly; Michael Festa, ARRP; Secretary Ann Hartstein, Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

It’s rare that a person lives long enough to witness their 100th birthday, and for some of those who do live to see it, it’s rare that they’re able to celebrate.

Central Boston Elder Services, a local nonprofit organization promoting independent living for seniors and disabled individuals, recognized this and founded the Centenarian Society of Boston in 2011 to honor their clients who have celebrated or will celebrate 100 years or more in the community.

More than a dozen centenarians were inducted into the Centenarian Society of Boston Friday during the Second Annual Centenarian Induction Ceremony in the Great Hall of Flags at the Massachusetts State House.

The event Friday honored those who reached or surpassed the 100 mark in 2012 or will turn 100 or more in 2013.

The centenarians were presented with medals, certificates of membership, and top hats or tiaras.

“We wanted to really show the longevity of being able to keep elders in the community,” said Catherine Hardaway, executive director of Central Boston Elder Services.

Among those honored at the event was Josefina Canuto, the grandmother of Manny Canuto, who starred in TNT’s reality series “Boston’s Finest.” The eight-episode show aired in February and documented the lives of officers on the Boston Police force.

To Manny Canuto, his grandmother, who turns 100 in November, is his parent first, playing the role while his mother and father worked.

“The minute I was born, she was always there. We lived in the same household as her. My parents went off to work and she’s the one who pretty much raised me until grade school,” Canuto said. “Even when I came back from grade school and elementary, she was the one I came home to. My parents wouldn’t come home until later on in the afternoon, so it’s just a pleasure to be able to give back her.”

His mother, Maria Canuto, echoed Manny’s appreciation for his grandmother. She said helping care for her mother-in-law is her way of giving back for the years her mother-in-law spent helping raise her three children.

In one episode of “Boston’s Finest” Manny Canuto is shown having dinner in the house he grew up in, where his parents and grandmother still live.

“We always had dinner together at around 7:30 p.m. as a family, and we still do it now,” Manny Canuto said. “We learned it from her. It wasn’t something my mom or my dad started, it was something my grandmother and grandfather started.”

As an officer in a city that has seen 13 homicides between Jan. 1 and May 6, according to bpdnews.com, Canuto — who now lives next door to his family home — says being close brings comfort.

“You go to a lot of different calls, and you see a lot of different things, and just for you to come home to your family after a long day of work, it feels great,” Canuto said.

When describing Josefina Canuto, the one word Manny Canuto repeated was “strong.”

“The thing that amazes me the most is her nephews or nieces will call from Cape Verde — islands of the west coast of Africa — and she hasn’t spoken to them in years, but the minute she picks up her phone she knows exactly who it is and just starts talking away,” Canuto said. “I’m like ‘How am I 32 years old, and someone calls that I haven’t spoken to in a month and I’m like, Hello who’s this?’” Canuto said. “She’s a very strong woman. She knows everything and she’s always on her toes. Every day I wake up in the morning, I’m amazed at the strong woman she is.”

Although centenarians like Josefina Canuto can demonstrate a superhuman amount of strength, keynote speaker for the event Thomas Perls advised audience members not to rely on them for health tips.

Perls, a geriatrician who is working on the largest centenarian and super centenarian (individuals who are 110 and older) studies in the world, believes the ability to reach the age 100 may have to more to do with a unique combination of genes than healthy choices.

A presentation during the ceremony revealed that some of the centenarians being honored enjoyed foods like Kentucky Fried Chicken and red meat.

As a geriatrician, Perls says the ultimate goal is to try to figure out ways to allow a person to stay at home and remain independent for as long as possible.

“I think everyone wants to be functionally independent for as long as possible.” Perls said.

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